Iranian cities and villages are home to tens of thousands of stray dogs that live in packs in neighborhoods, streets and wooded areas, usually finding their food by going through garbage. These dogs have come to symbolize cruelty toward animals in Iran and hardly a day goes by without local or national media and people on social networks publishing photographs of them being tortured or having been killed.
The latest case concerns the incineration of the bodies of 300 dogs in an area outside Ahvaz, the capital of the southwestern province of Khuzestan. A number of animal lovers, rights activists and environmentalists have posted photographs of the bodies of these dogs on social media, including on Twitter, Instagram and Telegram. There has been a wave of protests, condemnation and criticism, with people calling for the perpetrators be identified and held to account.
There have also been reports that Ahvaz Municipality was responsible for the slaughter, although it is not known when and how they were killed. The municipality has denied the claims but it did implicitly confirm the report of the deaths. However, it insisted that the 300 dogs in question where not alive when they were incinerated [Persian link].
The killing of dogs in Iran, of course, is nothing new. One of oldest available reports on this subjects was published on August 9, 1964 by the national paper Ettela’at [Persian link]. According to the newspaper, in 1963 the Ministry of Health and Tehran Municipality started a project that became known as “dog-buying.” With a budget of one million rials, or around $15,000 at the currency exchange rate of the time, the project’s mission was to destroy 50,000 stray dogs in and around Tehran. Since then countless dogs have been slaughtered in Iranian cities and villages, although no accurate statistics are available.
For years the killing of dogs was an accepted practice among many people and government agencies, but the tide started to turn when the lifestyles of Iranians changed and many households adopted dogs as pets. Many Muslims had traditionally considered dogs to be “unclean” and “untouchable,” but with the emergence of societies and organizations that work to protect animals from cruelty and with the changing attitude of the public, the situation for stray dogs has considerably improved, forcing municipalities and other local and government agencies to become more circumspect. Today a good part of public opinion is against the slaughter of stray dogs.
From Shooting to Poisoning
Iranian media archives are filled with reports and photographs of the slaughter of dogs in various cities by various means — from shooting them to laying traps and spraying poison. But in response to gradual changes in public opinion and the turn against this cruelty and slaughter, in 2008, the Interior Ministry and municipalities were ordered to provide shelters for stray dogs. Since then, public slaughter of dogs by municipalities and other agencies has become a costly proposition when it comes to public opinion. Over the last eight years, the public’s disapproval of the previous practices has manifested itself through many protests and campaigns.
Even the very conservative Iranian judiciary has not been immune to public pressures. In recent years has it has taken some action, introducing preventive punishments against people who engage in this kind of activity.
According to unofficial statistics, there are currently more than two million stray dogs in Iran. One the arguments put forward by those who advocate the killing of dogs is that this will mean people will live in a safer environment. They argue that stray dogs carry diseases and are liable to attack both children and adults.
For their part, opponents to the practice of killing dogs argue that in order to control the population of stray dogs, it is better to get them into shelters and sterilize them. But the municipalities, responsible for collecting stray dogs, say that the costs of providing shelters and keeping the stray dogs are too high for their budgets.
Some municipalities have set up shelters, but animal rights activists insist more must be done. In recent years a number of animal rights activists have created their own shelters for stray dogs, saving at least some of them.
All in all, the situation of stray dogs in Iran has improved and the number of mass slaughters has fallen. However, there are still many instances of cruelty. The slaughter in Ahvaz is just the latest example.
More on the fight for animal rights in Iran:
A Man of Religion — and a Lover of Dogs, November 23, 2016
Horror at Boumehen Animal Shelter, May 24, 2016
Iran's War Against Dogs — and the Activists who Refuse to Give up, February 23, 2016
Cat Shelter Fire Kills Owner and Hundreds of Animals, September 3, 2015
Residents Attack Dog Shelter Owner with Machete, September 2, 2015
The Trials and Trepidations of Iranian Pet Lovers, July 13, 2015
“We must send a message: Killing animals is wrong”, June 9, 2015
Man is a Beast to Man: Human and Animal Rights in Iran, June 5, 2015
“It’s like losing your sister”, May 18, 2015
"Being A Dog Is Not A Crime!", April 20, 2015
Crime: Owning a Pet, November 8, 2014
The Stray Dogs of Tabriz—and the Woman Who Saved Them, November 6, 2014